Bhils Tribe:- Bhils, a tribal group from Rajasthan, is the third-largest tribe in India after the Gonds and the Santhals. They are also the most widely distributed tribal groups in India. Bhils (name derived from ‘villu’ or ‘billu’ meaning bow in Dravidian language) are mainly categorised into two groups: the central Bhils found in the mountainous regions in the central and west Indian states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan and the Rajput Bhils. The former group is considered to be the real or pure Bhils. A population of the Bhils is also concentrated in the north-eastern part of Tripura as well as in Sindh in Pakistan. The distribution of the Bhils in various states are as follows: Madhya Pradesh (4.6 lakhs), Gujarat (3.4 lakhs), Rajasthan (2.8 lakhs) and Maharashtra (1.9 lakhs).
A famous Bhils tribe
The Bhils, who belong to the pre-Aryans race, are historically famous people. One can even find the mention of Bhils in the epic Ramayana where a Bhil woman named Shabari served Lord Rama and his brother Laxman with fruits while they were roaming in the jungles of Dandaka in search of Sita. Bhils are known to be brave warriors who gave it all to defend their pride against the mighty Mughals, Marathas and even the British. The historical incident where the Bhils came in aid of the famous Rana Pratap Singh against the mighty Mughals when he was seriously cornered is a legend in Indian history. Tantiya Bhil, who led a valiant struggle against the British in the late nineteenth century, is considered the greatest Bhil fighter by far. The non-tribals eventually betrayed him.
On the concentration of the Bhils in central India, it is believed that a series of Rajput immigration and periodic conflict with Muslim invaders have driven the tribe into the forested highlands of central India. By the end of the tenth century, most of Rewakantha (the region between the Gujarat plains and the Malwa hills bordered by the Tapti and the Mahi rivers. Rewa is a large district located in Baghelkhand area in north-eastern Madhya Pradesh) was under the rule of either the Bhil or Koli tribes. Between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries, the Rajputs supplanted the Bhils. However, the Bhils retained their importance by the fact that the Bhil representatives were summoned at the Rajput ascension ceremonies. Around the late fifteenth century when Rewakantha came under the Muslim rule, many Bhils underwent conversation into Islam. The new Muslim Bhils came to be known as the Tadvi Bhils. Following their supplantation by the Rajputs, the Bhil leadership fragmented and that is regarded as a watershed in the history of the tribe for many believe that Hindu advancement and the consequent retreat of the Bhils impacted a significant sociopolitical change. In the eighteenth century, the Bhils, who by then had lost all their land, property and possession, resorted to loot and pillage. This caused the Bhils coming in confrontation with the Marathas and the clash led to the murder of several Bhils. The Bhils subsequently retreated more and got dispersed, the leadership disintegrated, which led to a more decentralized society for there was no regard for a unified leadership any more. The Bhil society still is reflective of an arrangement that speaks about egalitarian social relations. Still later, the Britishers established peace and order in the Rewakantha area and gradually, the Bhils settled as cultivators. An agreement between the British and the Bhils granted a semi-autonomous status to the Bhils under the Rajput administration. They got land for cultivation and also access to the forest products. Today, extensive deforestation has led to declining independence of the Bhils on the forest products.
This speak Bhil languages, which include Bhili, Bhilali, Bauria, Dhodia, Dubli, Gamit, Pardhi, Vasavi, Wagdi and others. The Bhil dialect consists of Rajsthani, Gujarati, Hindi, Marathi words.
Bhil males wear loose long frock like upper garment along with pyjamas. The females wear traditional saris. The Bhisl also love to display brass ornaments on their bodies.
Bhils were valiant hunters earlier with bow and arrows. In the past, they had been appointed as state hunters by the ruling Rajputs. They were also expert in conducting guerrilla warfare that often put the advancing Mughals in discomfort. However, today they have turned more towards agriculture as their source of livelihood.
The religious practices of the Bhils differ from one place to another. Most Bhils worship local deities like Khandoba, Bahiroba and Sitalmata as well as tiger god called ‘Vaghdev’. They also worship a deity by the name of ‘Raja Pantha’. The Bhils consult the Badvas, the hereditary sorcerers on all the pious occasions while Bhagat or Gurus perform the religious rites. Bhils, however, do not have any temple for worshipping activities. Bhils also worship nature in the form of crops, fields, water, forest and mountains.
Social set up
Bhils follow strict social rules and regulations. The village headsmen act as arbitrators in cases of social disputes. Only intra-tribe marriage is encouraged in the Bhil society.
The Bhils attach much importance to cultural activities. Ghoomar is a famous dance form of the Bhils while Gair is a religious drama staged by the Bhil men during Shravana (the monsoon season)
The Bhils are also known for their sculpturer skills. Their clay statues are items of great admiration.
Baneshwar is the main festival of the Bhils. The fair is held at the time of Shivratri (January-February) in the name of Baneshwar Mahadev (another name of Lord Shiva). During this occasion, Bhils from all parts gather together on the banks of Som and Mahi rivers and engage in group dance and traditional songs. Raslila is held at the Lakhsmi Narayan Temple during the night. Cultural activities and feast are the main attractions during this fair. Besides, Holi and Dussera are other major festivals of the Bhils
A popular form of entertainment among the Bhils is Sawang, a storytelling activity combined with dancing and music.
Bhils of Jhabua
Jabua district in Madhya Pradesh has the highest concentration of the Bhils. Over 1.5 million Bhils live as marginal villagers in as many as 2,000 villages in the district. The region is one of the most backward in India which is ravaged by drought, diseases, illiteracy and other social evils.
Jhabua district has the highest percentage of tribal population in Central India and is one of the country’s poorest regions. Illiteracy, disease outbreaks, drought, soil erosion and overpopulation resulting in migration make this district one of the most challenging regions for development work. Two non-governmental organizations, namely the Aktionsgemeinschaft Partner Indiens (API) from Germany and the Bhil Health Initiative and Literacy Society (BHILS) based in Jhabua that work for the uplift and improvement of the local Bhils. The latter body includes committed individuals belonging to the Bhil tribe.